Religious Freedom?

BY: ANAND TAYAL, CONTRIBUTOR

One of the many goals of the LGBT community is to reach full acceptance in today’s society.  Throughout American civil rights history almost every disadvantaged group whether women or African Americans have been granted equal rights under the law, except for members of the LGBT community. Sociologist Mary Bernstein writes: “For the lesbian and gay movement, then, cultural goals include (but are not limited to) challenging dominant constructions of masculinity and femininity, homophobia, and the primacy of the gendered heterosexual nuclear family.”

These dominant constructions make change seem scary especially among the older and less open-minded generation, yet the LGBT community’s strong advocacy for equal rights has resulted in 17 states striking down the gay marriage ban.  It seems a wave of newfound optimism is spreaing across the nation in favor of the LGBT movement. With marriage equality gaining support nationwide, opponents are scrambling to figure out how to stop, or at least delay, the seemingly inevitable flood of change. Specifically Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, and Tennessee have attempted to pass or have laws against the LGBT in the name of religious freedom.  Religious freedom was created to ensure that no ones rights were infringed upon because of religious beliefs.  However, this right is being abused by lobbyists attempting to implement their own agendas.

Recently, Arizona’s Legislature passed SB1062 that would allow business owners, as long as they assert their religious beliefs, to deny service to gay and lesbian customers (sound familiar). The LGBT community in Arizona and across the country erupted in outrage with a protest march to the governor’s office that drew about 200 people. Some carried signs with messages “God created us all equal” and “Shame on Arizona.”

Many other state organizations added their dissent to the bill including the The Greater Phoenix Economic Council, who in a letter to Governor Jan Brewer, urged the governor to veto Senate Bill 1062, saying the “legislation will likely have profound, negative effects on our business community for years to come.” Additionally the president of the council Barry Broome wrote, “The legislation places businesses currently in Arizona, as well those looking to locate here, in potentially damaging risk of litigation, and costly, needless legal disputes.”

The main advocate for SB1062 was a conservative group named the Center for Arizona policy who stated “As we witness hostility towards people of faith grow like never before, we must take this opportunity to speak up for religious liberty,” the group said on its website, asking people to contact Brewer and urge her to sign the bill. “The great news is that SB 1062 protects your right to live and work according to your faith (stereotypical example of a lobbyist at work).” In response to the growing controversy regarding SB1062 Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the law to the pleasure of the majority of the nation. Additionally, Lawmakers in Idaho, Kansas, South Dakota, and Tennessee either voted down, blocked, or backtracked on legislation in the states that would have allowed individuals, religious organizations, businesses, and, in the case of Kansas, government employees to discriminate against LGBT people in the form of denying services and other recognition based on religious beliefs.

The question that needs to be asked is why in the midst of so much progress do conservative lawmakers feel the need to pass such anti-gay laws. The logic given by groups in support of these laws is that the Christian faith is being persecuted, so we must deny service to people who are homosexuals. Allowing businesses to refuse services to members of the LGBT community potentially opens the doorway for discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, age, or disability.

The tremendous economic and social costs clearly outweigh any religious benefit gained from their passage, leaving the public to believe that certain members of legislature are acting on bias instead of for the good of their constituents. Is it morally right to deny basic services guaranteed to all people of the United States based on sexual preference? These laws taint the reputation of America as the country who gives preference to people of a certain sexual orientation.